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The flashing images were of the Icarus I crew members. While searching Icarus I, Searle comes across the photo of the crew members wearing Hawaiian shirts (similar to the photo of the Icarus II crew members, who were wearing Santa hats).
The similar photos of the two crews hint that what kept the Icarus I from accomplishing its mission is what is happening to the crew of the Icarus II. Edit
In the DVD's featurettes and science commentary, respectively, Cliff Curtis and science consultant Brian Cox opine that Searle exposes himself to the sun in order to understand what had happened to the Icarus I crew. He wants to go through the same experience they had. According to Curtis, Searle becomes fascinated with the sun and comes to see the face of God in it. In the end, he believes the sun is trying to communicate something to him; in fact, this is similar to what Pinbacker was saying, and drove him mad in the end. Moreover, if you remember earlier, he was watching one of the last video messages sent from Icarus I, one of the crew was speaking about how beautiful it was to face the sun, and shortly before Captain Kaneda dies from direct sun exposure, he asks Kaneda what he sees. Edit
Dr. Brian Cox (a particle physicist) explains in his commentary track for the DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film that there is a theoretical possibility that our sun contains a "Q ball": a large mass that may be interfering with the natural fusion process that occurs within the sun and provides our planet with the light, heat and energy that sustain life. The intent of both Icarus missions was to deliver an immense payload of nuclear material to the sun and detonate it in the hopes that the Q ball would either break apart or be destroyed and return the sun to its natural processes. Edit
In the original screenplay by Alex Garland, it is mentioned that the bomb is the size of a football stadium. People often mistake, when Capa says the bomb equals in mass to Manhattan island, that it weighs the same as Manhattan, but is not the same size.
I did the math, with Manhattan being close to 125,208,467 tons, and fissile material yield of ~5.2 Megatons/ton, that comes to be...~650 Teratons of TNT equivalent or about 650,000,000 Megatons. The cube in the movie would be 0.594 cubic kilometers in volume, and a side length of 840 meters. Edit
The sun itself gives off an almost incomprehensible amount of radiation, heat and energy, enough to span the 93,000,000 mile (149,668,992 km) distance between it and the Earth, which receives all of its heat, light and energy over that tremendous distance. As the ship approached the sun, the radiation became much more intense, enough to disrupt (or perhaps absorb) all radio signals being sent back to Earth. Icarus II entered the dead zone a week earlier than the crew had calculated. The Icarus I also encountered the dead zone during its mission seven years prior, which is why the crew of Icarus II receives their distress call so late & no one detected it on Earth. Edit
Pinbacker was the captain of the Icarus I; he had stopped the Icarus I mission from delivering its payload. He says that God spoke to him and told him to take "us" (meaning all of humanity) to heaven. Pinbacker sabotaged Icarus I by destroying the mainframes on the spacecraft, rendering it unable to fly and dead in space. He also tries to sabotage the mission of the Icarus II in Capa's mind, but fails due to Capa's intervention Edit
The reason Pinbacker was able to survive for so long was that the ecosystem on board was still flourishing. He had plenty of oxygen and vegetation, enough to keep him alive. He was also the only person alive on board the Icarus I, meaning he wouldn't have to share it with anyone else.
He wasn't continually exposed to direct sunlight, as many people would think, because that should have burned him the same way it did Searle. Edit
There are two possible answers to this question. 1: He was murdered by Pinbacker. 2: He killed himself.
According to Danny Boyle's audio commentary on the DVD, both he and Alex Garland felt that Pinbacker killed Trey shortly after transferring over to Icarus II, and made it look like a suicide so as not to reveal his presence just yet. This is why Mace sees two knives missing from the drawer - the one used by Pinbacker to murder Trey, and the one Pinbacker would subsequently use to murder Corazon.
However, Benedict Wong and science consultant Brian Cox both argue that Trey killed himself. Cox, in his own DVD commentary, argues that Pinbacker wasn't thinking clearly enough to make his murder of Trey look like a suicide, whilst Wong simply feels that the character snapped upon hearing of the deaths of Harvey and Searle.
Option 2 seems much more likely because there is a point in the film where Pinbacker is stalking Cassie, but mistakes Trey's body for her. If he had killed him, he probably would have remembered. Edit
For this movie you have to accept a bit of science fiction, i.e. suspend your disbelief, - which was a problem for a lot of the film's critics, especially in this database. In any case, the front of the payload, the big umbrella-like dome that covered the bomb, was a gigantic heat shield that had supposedly been designed to withstand the intense heat when the ship(s) were close enough to the sun's surface - you might have noticed that the surface of the shield was an intricate group of rectangular panels that are controlled by hydraulic actuators so they can be aligned to deflect the sun at any angle the crew positions the ship. What you may not have noticed so easily is that the entire shield seems to be covered with gold or a gold-like material - gold is one of the best materials on Earth that reflects sunlight so it makes sense that the designers would use it when making the shield. Seeing the film in a theatre, the shield looked like it was black, however, it may just be because of the equipment used to project the film. On DVD and Blu-ray, the shield clearly has a gold tint. In any way, this shield can effectively divert the intensely hot rays of sunshine, allowing each Icarus ship to survive in the shadow it creates. The Icarus needs to propel itself and the payload, and is not built to withstand direct sunlight itself, as can be seen during the spacewalk scene when the communication towers rotate into direct sunlight and burn upon contact.
Had everything gone according to plan, then Icarus would have been separated from the payload at the end, flown away in a straight angle from it and the sun, still temporarily protected by the payload's shadow, and by a smaller heat shield attached to Icarus' end; however, due to the fact that there was no one piloting Icarus in the end anymore, it could not get away before the payload would start its descent into the sun, as planned. Activation of the thrusters on the payload probably pushed Icarus out of alignment, and no longer being protected from the sun, it burned up and exploded. The payload is a different story: as it has to fly through the outer layers of the sun at the end, a front shield would be no more use, thus it is made out of a material that can withstand much more heat than Icarus. Indeed, Capa, Cassie and Pinbacker are all aboard the payload when it enters the sun, without ill effects from the heat.
Also, you may recall Capa's simulation of the bomb's delivery: when the bomb and shield are detached from the ship and launched into the sun, Capa says that "time and space will become mashed together" and the onboard computer cannot predict how successful the detonation will be or what will actually happen. So, the writers, knowing that this film is sci-fi, are counting on audiences to accept that this film happens 50 years in the future, at a time when our scientists have been able to invent the technology necessary to propel the story, so the target audience, sci-fi fans (and hopefully others) will take it on faith that the story is at least plausible.
The entire reason for the mission to the sun is that the sun isn't giving out enough heat, you can see in the close up shots of it's surface it isn't moving as we normally see it do so, this coupled with the shield is what the film makers use to allow the story to be set there. The sun may also be 'cold' enough for the payload to fly through long enough for detonation, without burning or melting up.
At the movies end we see Sydney was frozen again reminding us that our star wasn't giving off as much heat as it normally does. Edit
Captain Kaneda - sacrifices himself to fix the shield after Trey's miscalculations, and is burned alive by the sun.
Harvey - When expelled from Icarus I after the airlock breaks, a midair collision jars him off course and he asphyxiates from lack of oxygen before his body freezes after being exposed to outer space without a space suit.
Searle - volunteers to stay on board Icarus I, where he sits on the observation deck and is presumably burned to death by the sun.
Trey - commits suicide after blaming himself for the death of the Captain. Could have also been murdered by Pinbacker (see above).
Corazon - murdered by Pinbacker in the burnt-out oxygen garden.
Mace - two possibilities, neither is certain from what we see: 1. Freezes to death from submerging himself in the mainframe coolant for too long. 2. Bleeds to death after his leg is caught under one of the mainframes and he is trapped there. (Though in the screenplay, Mace is still alive, but caught and unable to move, during the famous Capa walk through Icarus II - but the writers must have changed it because Capa had already blown the airlock and the Icarus II had been depressurized. If Mace wasn't dead before, he was certainly dead by the time of Capa's walk through.)
Cassie - presumably dies onboard the payload after the bomb is detonated.
Pinbacker - presumably dies onboard the payload after the bomb is detonated. (In a deleted scene - and in the screenplay - he falls into the sun.)
Capa - There are at least two possible outcomes for Capa. The first possibility is that he is incinerated by the sun after detonating the bomb. The second possibility is that time and space as we know it break down at the point where Capa detonates the bomb, due to the massive release of energy involved. This interpretation might be implied by the way he sees the bomb spark into life and surround him with light and energy but at the same time not harm him. As the energy potential in the massive nuclear bomb begins to be released, time slows down, relative to him. This effect might be amplified by the fact that Capa is already surrounded by a super massive source of energy and gravity - the Sun (recall that as the bomb falls into the Sun and Capa and Pinbacker fight, time seems to stall and behave strangely). As the bomb begins to detonate Capa can see the patterns of energy spring into existence and unfold before his eyes without the full destructive force reaching him. At the point where the bomb's release of energy reaches its peak, space-time (relative to Capa) slows down to an immeasurably slow crawl and seems to almost stop. Capa's body and consciousness thus remain intact and unharmed despite the massive forces around him in that instant. Thus he can bear witness a near eternity of pure, dancing energy. To the observer on earth (represented by Capa's sister) the sun explodes into new life. Capa's consciousness, caught in a moment that stretches on forever, gets to bear witness to the very thing that Pinbacker and Searle merely tasted and were so intoxicated by, the ultimate creative source of everything in its incredible beauty. Perhaps a moment of bliss. Material spirituality? Spiritual materiality? This interpretation very loosely ties in with how some theoretical physicists speculate time and consciousness might be affected by being proximate to massive amounts of matter/energy, some implications of the theory of relativity and about how a black hole and its event horizon might be perceived by a nearby observer. Consider, Capa's sister would have experienced the explosion approximately eight minutes and 20 seconds after Capa experienced it, due to the time it takes light to travel from Sun to Earth, just one of the ways that energy, time and consciousness is relative. Deep stuff indeed. (But just to be clear, even with this theory, time only slowed down *relative* to Capa. By the time his sister saw our local star spark to new life the bomb *had* exploded. Taking Capa with it, who was undoubtedly destroyed in the blast and had ceased to exist more than 8 minutes prior to the new light reaching Earth. Capa died instantly, whether he experienced an eternity of bliss in that split second or not.) Edit
There are two potential answers that could be taken separately or together; 1. He is left constantly obscured and accompanied by an almost deafening hum so as to portray his mental state to the viewers. Another reason for this is to show how he sees the world in his delusional state. There is no actual blurring or sound seen or heard by the flight crew. It is only superimposed for us to understand the chaos of the situation.
2. Due to his extensive visits to the observation deck, viewing the sun at a higher-than-normal level (Searle could hardly handle 3.1% brightness), the ions, etc. generated and expelled by the sun have begun to cling to him distorting light and space around his body, in very similar fashion to when Capa experiences fluctuations to space time during his fight with Pinbacker and at the end during the detonation when space-time blend to the point of relative stillness; due to the pure and raw energy being emitted. Another example is how a black hole distorts light using another force: gravity. In this situation, the other characters would be able to see and hear the effects.
These two can be taken as one or the other or explanations for two questions: Why did the director choose to include this into the movie? And what is the explanation behind it? These are answered respectively. Edit